Storage containers or sea containers are extremely popular for everything from storage to conversion into houses. But, if you’re looking to buy one, things can often get complicated.
Not only do you have to figure out the type of sea container you want, but you also have questions like condition, shipping or delivery, and what you should actually be paying.
For many first-time buyers, purchasing a shipping container is complicated. That’s because, with dozens of seller options, often hidden prices, and no upfront way to compare options, it can be difficult to make the best choice.
However, understanding your options will give you a good start on making that choice.
Here is a list of places to buy storage containers:
The Internet offers nearly everything for sale and shipping containers are no exception. Here, you’ll want to be careful to search for containers that are in your area or near where you want to pick them up.
The Internet is the easiest way to find and compare cheap shipping containers, because you will always find at least some flat-rate prices. That can take some of the hassles out of figuring out what you should be paying.
However, it is important to pay attention to factors like delivery costs, the actual condition of the container you buy, etc.
There are dozens of reasons why buying storage containers online is a great idea:
- A wider range of choices. Most online shipping container sellers match you to smaller resellers or to their own stock based on location – removing the need for driving around to find options. That can mean you have more choices in terms of size and type. You might also get better options for the condition, pricing, and even cosmetic differences like color. If you want a specific, especially a rare
- Comparable – It’s a lot easier to compare pricing online. That’s even true when sellers use custom quotes, because you’ll spend less effort getting those quotes.
- Pricing is often lower. That’s because online retailers are more likely to have larger businesses, meaning they might be able to reduce total costs.
- If you need custom work, such as modified shipping containers for housing or for offices, you’re more likely to be able to find them online.
- Buying options range from professional retailers with a wide range of stock to individuals selling their personal property on forums or auction sites. This means you can shop around to get the best deal or value for your money.
However, there are also reasons why you might not want to buy shipping containers online. Cons include:
- You won’t get to see the container you’re buying upfront unless you go pick it up yourself. That means you’ll have to rely on the seller to deliver something in the condition you want. Therefore, you may want to put extra research into looking at reviews and feedback for the seller.
- Delivery costs can be high. However, you’ll almost always have to get a custom quote for the delivery costs. In addition, you can likely choose to pick your storage container up instead of having it delivered. However, options will vary depending on the seller.
- You’ll normally have to sort through dozens of options to find one that works – and that may mean calling and contacting multiple sellers just to get basic information.
You can often purchase shipping containers like Conex boxes offline and from a variety of sources.
Here, the most common is a shipping container reseller. These normally buy “one trip” shipping containers from ports as they come in.
“One trips” are so named because they are manufactured in China and then make a single trip with cargo, after which it’s more cost-effective to sell them rather than to ship them back.
This means you get an almost new or like-new shipping container. Here, prices are dependent on factors like demand, condition (e.g., if they took damage during the single trip), and type of container.
Of course, you can also find second-hand shipping containers that are being retired at the same time. And, with on-site purchasing available, you can often just show up, walk around a lot, and choose a container after looking at it.
- You’ll be able to inspect the shipping container upfront, ensure that the condition is what you want, and make sure it meets your needs.
- You can more easily choose to get your own transportation for the shipping container, which could save you considerably on costs if you have the means to move it. For many delivery services, costs start in hundreds of dollars. This means bringing your own truck may save you a great deal.
- It may be possible to get the shipping container on the same day. Often, there’s minimal paperwork, so, providing you have transport, there’s no reason why you can’t go home with your container.
- Shipping container sites are normally located near ports or major railroad and industrial sites. That might mean you’ll have to travel quite a bit to make a purchase – even if you can’t immediately take the container home.
- If you do try to pick up a shipping container on the same day, you may have to wait for a crane or other loading equipment anyway.
- Not all shipping container sellers will have the things you want on-site. Therefore, it’s usually a good idea to call to ask about specifics and details before driving to see what’s there.
Who Sells Shipping Containers?
Shipping containers move the world’s cargo and that means there are many of them. In fact, estimates suggest there are over 14 million out-of-service containers, and up to 38.5 million in-service containers in use today.
That means there are always places to buy them, whether you want brand-new, one-ship, or second-hand containers.
Here, the condition will play a large part in where you can purchase containers.
If you want American-made and designed containers, you’ll have to go to specific manufacturers. On the other hand, if you want a secondhand container, almost anywhere will do.
The following include some of the places you can choose to buy a shipping container.
Individual sellers are either very small businesses or people who had a container and want to get rid of it. These containers are normally secondhand and may be customized or have been modified.
Here, you’ll almost always find these on auction sites, forums, and other similar sites. For example:
- Facebook Marketplace
- GSA Auctions
Individual sellers often allow you to get the lowest price on a container. In addition, they may be more convenient if located near you.
However, they won’t normally offer a warranty or guarantee. That means you’re trading cost and convenience for that guarantee.
This can be a great way, though, to source a cheap second-hand sea container.
Customized Container Manufacturers
Dozens of businesses exist to offer shipping container customizations. These range from simple office and home conversions to full custom builds.
For example, SEA BOX builds custom ISO containers for military use – but also supplies small businesses. Falcon Structures specializes in building structures out of sea containers, based on custom input.
These types of suppliers allow you to get nearly any kind of container you want – whether to live in, to use for storage, or to put custom cargo storage in.
However, they can be quite expensive compared to buying a standard shipping container. In addition, most will only have one or a few locations across the U.S.
For example, Falcon Structures is the largest supplier of modified shipping containers in the United States, but it’s located in Texas. If you want to buy from them, you’ll have to pay for shipping to wherever you are.
Cargo Container Depots
Cargo container depots or suppliers are almost always located near ports and near large railway centers. Here, the United States has 20 major sea cargo ports.
Any one of them will have dozens of cargo container suppliers in and around it. Here, you’ll be buying sea cans and not usually military ISO containers.
However, this is also one of the best places to go if you want a cargo container cheaply and quickly. Depots or port-based suppliers normally buy up shipping containers as they come in or when they’re retired.
That means they will have a lot of supply, a wide range of options, and containers graded by condition.
Unfortunately, most of these won’t ship outside of a delivery area. Often, that’s around 150-200 miles, so it’s still quite large.
However, you will pay per mile for delivery. In addition, not all will have websites or “online shopping” options, so you’ll have to go in person or call.
The best way to find local seaports is to use a website like Sea Rates or search on Google.
There are dozens of large, national suppliers that sell cargo shipping containers across the country.
These suppliers can range from single organizations with large warehouses in multiple parts of the country to websites that connect you to smaller suppliers in your area.
In both cases, they offer a relatively easy way to order online but may not have a physical place to visit to see the container you’re buying.
Some of the largest cargo container suppliers include:
- Western Container
- Box Port
- USA Containers
- Conex Depot
- Titan Containers
You can almost always purchase shipping containers wholesale.
For example, if you want to start your own business. Here, you may have to invest in relationships with a wholesale supplier or with port businesses.
Depending on the business, importers may auction off containers, sell them for a flat rate, or even “pre-sell” rights to shipping containers coming in.
You’ll almost always have to network to figure out the best options in your area, which may mean going to events or asking around.
Once you decide to buy a sea container, the hardest part will likely be working out delivery. However, you’ll also have to decide on condition, type, and what a fair price for the model you choose should be. That can involve a lot of comparing quotes and costs. If you’d like help, use the form at the top of the page, and we’ll request quotes from top suppliers delivering to your area, and then will forward you those quotes so you can compare.